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The Austrian

It was fifteen till closing at the Palms, a bird’s nest of a bar, if there ever was one.  I was drunk, nothing new, I was always drunk, except when I was hung over.  I never drink with a hang-over, it’s a deadly combination.  I noticed a strange glow nearing the bar.  I’d heard of such a glow before, in some story involving a manger.  This was a different glow, part mystical, part whorish.  This glow emanated from the body of a woman baring a more than uncomfortable resemblance to Ingrid Bergman.  In fact, if Ingrid were alive today, she’d be really pissed off.

 

I introduced myself timidly by saying, . . . “Hi, I couldn’t help notice you’re lighting the bar with your beauty, would you mind adjusting your glow, some of us are trying to get some sleep.”

 

“What?”  She replied innocently with an accent.

“Nothing,” I said, “I just think you have to be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen alive.”  Again she says what, but at least this time a smile.

“Look,” I said, getting impatient, “I’m trying to tell you I think you’re incredible, the fact that you’re foreign is pure icing.”

 

I politely introduced myself and asked for her name.  She gave it to me, Inga, she said with some hypnotic accent.  There wasn’t much I could do that night except to memorize every inch of her; winged eyebrows, delicately cleft chin, bare neck leading languorously down to her shoulders.  She wore a mesmerizing off the shoulder shear white clingy thing, and black pants I hardly noticed.  All I kept thinking, this woman’s too beautiful to be of this earth, and I was almost right, she was Austrian.

 

She had been in the U.S. for five years and yet she had never once called me.  This would have to change.

 

She asked for my name.  I told her the truth, “Lauran,” I said, then added more than I needed to, “you know I just finished shooting a lesbian film, you really should see it.”

 

“Oh really, I would love to see it. You know, I should give you my number,” she says pulling out a pen.

 

“Why, are you an actress?”

 

“No, you should just call me sometime.”  We walked to get a bar napkin for her to write on.  She handed me the napkin, Inga Dresden and a Hollywood number.

 

“Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked.

 

“Yes,” she says, “but you should call me anyway.”

 

I contemplated the weight of that statement, then I look up to find Inga has vanished.  I searched all over the bar.  She was gone.

 

 

I took her number home with me, since she was no longer on the planet.  I set the phone number by my computer and looked at it daily.  Occasionally I picked the number up, only to set it back down again. “But you should call me anyway,” circles around my head like a turkey vulture.  What does it mean?  I would ponder.  Her girlfriend doesn’t hear the phone?  They have an open relationship.  They like three ways?  So I call her.  Just to hear the message on her machine.  It was Inga all right, that accent could cure ham, and no mention of the insignificant other.  But a month had passed, and her odd disappearance that night left me weak and confused so I hung up without leaving a message.

 

Time passed.  I quit drinking for a while.  I had a life.  I worked on finishing my film.  Finally, I ventured out from my dull torpor of sobriety and solitude and landed at Girl Bar on a Friday evening.

 

Girl Bar is a great place to go and see some of the most beautiful women in the world, and get snubbed by them.  Suddenly, across the bar I saw the human glow-stick.  I thought it was Inga, but I couldn’t be sure.  Her hair was slicked straight back and she stood against an aluminum pillar.  It was either another reincarnation of Ingrid Bergman or it was an art piece by Jonathan Borofsky.  I opted for the real flesh and hopped down off the bar.

 

I walked over and stood next to the woman in question.  Hello, I think we’ve met before, I said cloyingly.

“Yes, I think we have,” she agreed.

“It was at the Palms, just before closing.”

“Yes,” she said, “what a good memory you have.”  I asked her what she’s doing holding up an aluminum pillar all by herself.  She tells me her girlfriend is off talking to friends.  Ah yes, the girlfriend, always there must be a girlfriend lurking about.

“How long have you two been together?” I inquire.

“About five weeks,” she says while nonchalantly stroking my arm, subtly convincing me to stay.

“Is it serious?”  I ask her.

“I don’t know, how do you tell?”

If you have to ask, I think, it ain’t.  “Listen,” I say, trying to be helpful. “ Does your heart skip out of gear when you think about her?”

“No, not really,” she says honestly.

“Well,” I say, “it was nice to see you again, I wish you luck with your girlfriend.”

“Why are you so understanding?”  She asks.

 

“Practice.”  I say, as I begin to walk away.  Suddenly she stops me, hooking me by the arm.

“Wait,” she says, “You really should call me.  Maybe we could go to dinner or something.”

 

“Yeah, all right,” I say, knowing now, there is a God, and God loves me.  She squeezes my hand intimately. I walk back to my corner of the bar. I continue to keep an eye on Inga, while ordering myself a round of drinks.

 

Inga gyrates slowly against the wall, her body begging to dance, and then suddenly disappears behind a shadow of blackness.  Like a giant crow returning to its nest, Inga’s girlfriend has landed.  She is an amazon.  Inga’s girlfriend is a seven-foot-tall-body-builder with a wingspan so fierce she almost puts my eye out as she flaps from across the room.  She doesn’t stay in the nest long, a gust of wind rises as she lifts off and glides into another part of the bar.  I lean on the bar, dumbstruck by this spectacle.  Ingrid Bergman resurrected to be with a female Shaquille O’Neal.

 

I left the bar that night feeling like I had swallowed a mouth full of sand, that, and a developing pearl.  Weeks went by, I had a life.  Actually, I was ill.  I laid in bed with a flue as my lover.  All I could think about was my sweat filled hallucinations of death and actresses.  At the end of a three-week stint in bed next to a bucket, I began to recover.  I knew I was better when I lifted the phone to call Inga.

 

She remembered me and seemed excited to hear from me.  We made plans to have dinner together the following week.  I washed my car and had my carpets cleaned.  The week crept by like a Chevy on blocks.  I thought only of Inga and each insecurity I ever had.  The day of our scheduled date the phone rings.

 

It’s Inga, “Sweetie,” she says sounding completely sincere. “I’m going to have to cancel with you tonight.  I have to work late and there is just no way for me to know when I’ll be finished.  How is tomorrow night?” she asks.

I think quickly and choose to lie.  “I have plans tomorrow, but I can break them.”  By using this lie, I look popular, and a little uncaring which is better than the truth, I’m an area rug.  So the date is set and another day slithers by.

 

 

The next day the phone rings, this time I call-screen to look like I’m busy.  “Hello my dear, it’s Inga, I’m so sorry, but I must cancel with you tonight.  I would like very much for us to talk about this, you know because I’ve decided to see only my girlfriend, I’m sorry, call me.”  I didn’t call Inga.  There weren’t any possessions to divide so I figured we’d make a clean break.

 

Weeks went by.  I didn’t go to any clubs, I knew there would be girls there and I knew those girls would hurt me.  I stayed home.  I figured if I met anyone, it would have to be by chance.  I thought perhaps the girl who collects for Green Peace would come around this year.  I always give, but she would sense my apathy.

 

On one tortuously lonely night, I sat on my bed with the “Tonight” song from West Side Story playing a loop tape in my head.  Each night, I ventured out believing tonight would be the night I’d meet the woman of my dreams.  Every night I would run into other people’s dreams.  Well, it’s a good thing I have a short-term memory of pain or I would never leave the house.  I dragged my hide back to the Girl Bar.

 

I sauntered in with my esteem clinging to my shoe like toilet paper; I managed to kick it free when I saw the women milling about the club like extras in a modern western.  I have a theory that there is a perfect unknown number of women which may fill a room and create the most conducive atmosphere for meeting potential mates.  Too few women seem desperate and conspicuously blond.  Too many women in a room function like a herd, they can sense a loner or weaker breed and stampede at will.  This particular night contained the perfect number of women.  I shot back a couple of stiff ones, then decided to try and loosen up with a drink.

 

I leaned up against a girl with a bob hairdo that started at her shoulders and crept up her scalp till she was nearly bald in the back.  I looked at her head, nice head, it works for her, I thought.  I looked at her face.  She was severe, yet lovely, like Clara Bow on Prozac.  I edged up against her and let my words sink into her inner ear.  “I bet people are always asking you if they can touch your head.”

She turned her whole body toward me as if she had a bad neck.  “Yes, people ask me all the time,” she said sizing me up for something.

 

I turned away from her slightly to let her know I could care less.  She couldn’t take the silence.

“Would you like to touch my head?” she asked.  I put down my drink so I could accommodate her fully.  I took both my hands and slowly ran them across her head.  The feel of her fuzzy head moistened more than my mouth.

I ended with a gentle squeeze of her hair and spoke nonchalantly, “Nice,” I said.

 

I casually walked away from Ms. Bow and ordered another drink as Inga grabbed my arm.  “Well hello, so we meet again,” she said directly to my soul.

“Have we met?”

“Oh come on,” she said, “don’t be like that darling.  It’s so good to see you again.”

“I think seeing you, is the best part of you.” I said as I downed a shot.

“You never called me back, I wanted to explain,” she said as she went for my open hand.

My machine heard your explanation. I pulled away from her hand and began to turn away.  She caught my arm.  “Please don’t be angry, I really like you.”

“You don’t even know me,” I lied.

“I’d like to.” She countered.

“I don’t like it when someone cancels a date with me, it makes me cranky.”

“I didn’t want to mislead you,” she explained. “If we had gone out for a cocktail, maybe some dinner you know, we would have, . . . we could have, really liked each other.”

“You’re right,” I said, “that could get ugly.”

“I’d like to be your friend,” she said.

“I have enough friends,” I assured her.

“I’d like to be a very good friend.”

“I have them too.”

“I’d like to be your very, very, good friend.”

“One more `Very’, and we’d be fucking,” I said.

“It’s so good to see you, I’m so attracted to you.”  She added sincerely.

“I’m sure you’ll get over it,” I said.

I kept wondering why I felt like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, and then it hit me, I hadn’t been laid in months.

 

“Let me buy you a drink, she pleaded.”

“Let me buy you a house,” I said.

“I really like you, let’s do a shot.”

And shoot we did.  All this while I sank deeper and deeper into the vortex she called her eyes.  Suddenly her girlfriend fell into me like a giant Sequoia.  She apologized, said she’d been pushed, though I’m sure she meant she meant chopped down.

 

Her girlfriend Sheena seemed nice enough, though I could sense deep down she wanted to gut me and drink my blood.  I imagined that Inga must count Sheena’s muscles when trying to fall asleep.  With Sheena’s build she’d be out cold before she reached the abdominals.  I could feel the heat rising between the two of them and since I was standing in the middle I was sure it was coming from me.  I glanced across the room and caught Clara’s eye.  She had suffered long enough so I told my new pals I was gonna go mingle.  Inga grabbed me inappropriately by the hand.

“Please don’t go yet,” she cooed.  Sheena glared at me as if I had made the advance.

“Europeans’ are so affectionate,” I told Sheena as I gave her a manly nudge and wink.  “I’ll be back,” I assured them, “I have to leave with at least one girl or I won’t have anyone to make me breakfast.”

The Clara clone was so happy to see me return to her side she ordered us drinks.  A white wine for her, and everything else for me.

 

She said her name was Fanny and I forgave her almost instantly.  “What’s with the nose ring,” I asked as soon as I noticed it.

“I like it,” she answered defensively.

“Just don’t let it get infected,” I said, “I had a friend who almost lost her nose that way.” It seemed the more I put her off, the more it turned her on, so I continued.  “So what, are you in retail clothing,” I asked.

“As a matter of fact, I work at Sachs,” she replied in a snobby tone as if I had been wrong.

“What do you do?” she asked, trying to recover.

“I’m a sex worker,” I answered, “But only for women and if the money’s right.”

She starred at me in disbelief for a few beats.  “You’re interesting, . . . I should give you my number.”

 

“I should give you mine,” I said, “my phone won’t dial out.”  Just as I was beginning to like her humorlessness, she laughed.

“Are you a comedian?” she asked as she sipped her wine.

“No,” I said, “I’m just angry.”

 

I moved on.  I passed the pool table and noticed Inga had been left alone once again.  She saw me and her eyes beckoned to me.  I’ve always been a sucker for eyes and she had two.  She told me I was adorable three times, not in a row, but I got her drift.  She told me we should meet for dinner sometime soon.  “What about your girlfriend,” I asked.

“What about her?” she said smiling, “You and I are friends right? Very, very, good friends. Call me this week,” she demanded without seeming demanding.

“That would be impossible.”

“But why?” She asked seriously.

“I threw out your number.”

“Oh, but I will give it to you again,” she reassured me.

“You’ll have to call me,” I said as I gave her my card, “I never call the same number twice, it’s bad luck.”  She took the card slowly from my hands without looking away from my eyes, a strong statement if you can get away with it, she did.  She starred at me for so long my eyes started to water, than I remembered this was not a staring contest, I was allowed to blink.

“I’ll call you,” she said, “I promise.”

I’ve heard that before, I thought as I left the bar.  I promise has got to be the worst way to end a sentence.

 

 

Weeks went by, . . . I had a life.  I worked on the Post Production of my movie, and learned to embrace abstinence.  Inga never called which didn’t surprise me.  She struck me as the kind of woman who’d regret a broken nail more than a promise.  So once again, loneliness had me in its knapsack.  The loneliness wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t hitched up to, and trying to pull a greater load.  I’m talking about love.  I always try not to have anything to do with love, but like bad credit, I couldn’t seem to avoid it.  I loved her all right.  I could tell it was love, I felt more miserable than usual.  I finally decided I’d eat a little crow and ring the Austrian.  I dug her number out from my waste paper basket that I never empty just in case I fall in love.

 

She was about as excited as an Austrian can get without reverting back to her native tongue.  “Darling I lost your number,” she said, “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t called”.

“Maybe you would have found it,” I said.

“I’ve missed you terribly, when can I see you?” she asked with more than a hint of Garbo in her accent.

“Tonight, I’ll meet you at six, on the Pier under the Ferris-Wheel, and don’t be late, I hate tardiness,” I said.  As I hung up the phone I looked at my watch.  I had three hours to prepare for a date I had waited six months to get.  I was so happy I cracked a smile, then I took a shower.

 

I stood under the Ferris-Wheel and watched the nauseous kid’s climb off.  I bought two tickets, but I knew I’d never use them. I hate Ferris Wheels.  It was a quarter-past-six.  She probably would have been on time if I hadn’t told her not to be late.  That’s the way women are.  Waiting for the Austrian was like waiting to be stepped on by Godzilla.  But I would’ve waited weeks just to see her passport photo.  At six-twenty she showed.  I could see her stepping gracefully over the chunky gravel floor of the amusement park as she came toward me.  If I had one memory to look back on for the rest of my life, it would have been the vision of Inga approaching me under the Ferris wheel.  The way she smiled at me, hugged me warmly, and kissed my cheek felt like we had just made love.

“You look great,” she said as she grabbed my hand, “let’s go some place we can talk.”

I followed her as she led me towards a bar called the Boathouse.  It was the first time I felt completely vulnerable with her, but she didn’t look at me so she missed it.

 

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